First Time Face Painting: Tips & Tricks for Your First Gig

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Kelli Zermeño — 12 December 2017 —


So you’ve decided to enter the beautiful and sparkly world of face and body art. Eeeep! So exciting! You’ve booked yourself for a birthday party and… wait! What designs do I paint?! What paints are the best?! How much am I supposed to charge?! Where do I buy everything??? It’s cool… breathe! You’re in the right place. I’ve got the answers to help you not only get started, but to help you crush it straight out of the gate!

I’m Kelli Zermeño, a face painter out of Odessa, Texas and the newest addition to the blog writing team at the International Face Paint School. When I first started face painting about 10 years ago, I began with a multi-color Snazaroo palette and a handful of paint brushes from my craft drawer. Super professional!😂 My church asked me if I thought I could face paint for their annual Halloween carnival and I literally responded with “Sure, how hard could it be?” That was the beginning. I volunteered as a “face painter” for several years, trying my hand at various other endeavors until I was shown that there was an actual career to be had here.

I knew I was going to need an upgrade. But trying to decide where to put my tiny budget was really overwhelming.

Needless to say, my trusty Ziploc baggie full of Snaz and clipart designs weren’t going to cut it any longer. Take a moment and read “Starting your face painting business. Investments and hidden costs” to get a more complete picture of the financial investment into your business.

Your Kit

Carrying Case
No matter how big or small your setup is at the moment, you’re going to need something to carry your supplies around in. I personally started with a plastic scrapbooking container I purchased with a 40% off coupon at Michael’s Arts and Crafts! Serious budget constraints over here!

You are only limited by your budget and imagination, and there are limitless options. I joined a Facebook group called Face Painters Kits and it was hugely helpful in helping me develop my current setup.

Check out this detailed article by MightyGoods where “9 professional face painters share how they pack and prepare their gear”.

face painting kit example
Tip: Be creative! I’ve seen artists use everything from camping kitchens to thrift store briefcases to make a kit. I’ve upgraded to an aluminum SRA case I purchased off Amazon. You can do this, on any budget.

Brushes and Paints
Your brushes and paints are going to be the most important part of your kit. Care for them well. Wash them regularly, keep things tidy and safe. Be sure to keep your entire workspace neat and clean. A sloppy station looks extremely unprofessional and uninviting. More details about hygiene and kit care can be found in Part Two, Module 9 of our online course — “Building your own setup. Outdoor gigs. Most comfortable body postures for painting. Displaying face painting designs for different gigs.”

There are a multitude of websites for purchasing professional equipment, Silly Farm, Jest Paint and Art Factory are a few great places to start. When deciding what brushes you need, you’ll need to know the various brush strokes and designs that can be achieved with different types of brushes.

Types of Double dip petals with different brushes
Tip: Check out these articles for more in-depth tips on brushes and putting them to work for you! “5 Tips for Crisp Lines In Face Painting” and “Tools for Perfect Double Dip Flowers”.

Deciding what brands and colors of paints to start with is important, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Two essentials for any job are going to be a good black and white. Each brand has a different consistency and base ingredients for their paints, making them useful for a variety of applications. We’re here to help you determine what you need, and Olga has you covered with this super helpful article “How to Activate and Use Face Paints Correctly” where she also goes into depth about the types of paints and how best to use and choose them.

Shimmer and Shine
There are so many add ins available to enhance your beautiful artwork. Everything from cosmetic glitters and bling to prosthetics. For now, stick with the basics. Add a couple of glitters in to your shopping cart, and your designs will literally sparkle… and so will your client’s faces!

Additional Essentials
Our work place changes drastically with every gig. Whether at a birthday party, outdoor carnival or an indoor festival… you may need to pack a few extras into your kit. You’ll want to invest in some sort of chair and folding table. Add in some Q Tips for lips, baby wipes for dirty little faces and a water container for washing your brushes. Business cards are an inexpensive and valuable tool, word of mouth is essential and cards help clients remember you. You’ll also want to create a Facebook page and Instagram account to get your name out there.

Tip: Start a business account on Instagram and Facebook and post your artwork there regularly. Not only is it a great (free) promo tool, but it’s also a great way to become a part of the greater face painting community.

What Can You Paint?

Every gig will require something different in terms of what designs you want to offer. It will take some time to find your personal style, but there are certain designs that will be popular at any event. Butterflies, Batman, kitty cats… these will be great go-to’s to add into your portfolio.

Decide on 10-15 faces to start with. Practice them and get them down solid.

Keep to only these designs at PPF (paid-per-face) gigs until you are eventually able to add more in. For themed and hourly gigs, learn a few coordinating designs for boys and girls to offer along with your go-tos. You’ll always have that one kid at the unicorn birthday who has to be Spiderman. This is precisely why you will learn two variations of Spidey (and Batman too!) during your training at the International Face Paint School.

Spider-man face painting design at the International Face Paint School
Tip: When practicing utilize your kids, your own face and legs, a model… or you can even invest in some practice boards or a practice head. Practice makes perfect. Check out “Top 10 Face Painting Designs” to help you get a solid starting point.


Are you working a paid-per-hour face painting job or are you earning your money per face? It’s important to know what other artists in your area are charging. While new artists can’t necessarily charge as much as someone who’s been painting for 15 years, you don’t want to undercharge either. Take a moment to read “How Much to Charge for Face Painting” so you can feel confident in your pricing.

You don’t want to undercut your competition in a huge way, this creates animosity amongst artists and frankly, doesn’t help you in the long run.

A few things to consider:

  • Take a Deposit when charging per hour. This shows your client that you are committed to their event. When a client pays a deposit, you won’t be left high and dry in the event of a cancellation.
  • Collecting Payments I have a bank bag I take to events with at least $100 or so in change for cash payments. We are living in the digital age, and face painting is no exception. Your ability to take credit card payments, whether at a PPF gig or booking an hourly event is quite vital to your business. Square and PayPal are 2 of the most popular applications. I personally use Square for its ease of taking quick, one time payments at a PPF gig. It allows me to turn my smartphone into a credit card reader with simple plug-in device that they will send you for free! I also have the ability to invoice my clients whether they choose to pay cash or credit, a great tool for tracking my hourly event income.
a jar with coins with a label that says "Family kidnapped by ninjas - need $$$ for karate lessons"
Tip: A PPF gig is a good opportunity to set out a tip jar. Even if clients are only dropping in a dollar or 2 at a time, those dollar bills can add up! Don’t ask for tips. Simply put a jar out, drop in a couple fives and tens, and you’ll find that appreciative clients are more than happy to tip. I even tape a funny sign to my jar.

You are Your Money

Lastly, take care of yourself! You are your income. If you aren’t careful, you can quickly find yourself unable to work. The truth is, this is a very physical job. On your feet for hours, fast-paced and busy, busy, busy. But we LOVE it. It is truly a labor of love. That being said, here are my tips for self-care.

  • Pee before you start — Yeah, go ahead and laugh now, but you do NOT want to find yourself an hour into a busy gig with a 20-kid-deep line having to stop and run to the bathroom! I find if I go before I start, many times I’m so busy that I don’t even notice I have to go until there’s an eventual break in the line anyway
  • Nutrition — Take plenty of drinking water. If you allow yourself to get dehydrated, especially at hot outdoor gigs, you can find yourself in a serious medical emergency.
    Also, for gigs over 3-4 hours, take yourself a healthy snack. I recommend something with protein. Apples, cheese sticks, nuts… Don’t starve yourself! Your shaky hands will do you no justice in achieving clean linework!
  • an image of a squirell with a mouthful of nuts with a caption "when you've started eating and someone wants to be painted"

  • Protect your workspace! — Your equipment is highly valuable. The LAST THING you want is some hyper 3-year-old knocking your precious kit to the ground. WARNING: Kids are going to try to touch your stuff! They just are. Accept it now.
    How are you going to deal with it? You don’t want to terrify them by yelling… there goes your money, crazy-face-painter-lady! Be firm, ask them not to touch your things when they try. Be sure they understand it’s not allowed. But, if you get an extra rambunctious child, be prepared to tell them they cannot get their face painted if they do not behave.
  • two children that painted the living room with white paint making a huge mess

  • Stretch! — For the love of God, stretch your body! If you don’t… you will end your gig looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Take an occasional break to walk around (in circles, around your space) and stretch your arms and back every once in awhile.
    Also, wear comfy shoes. I often dress up in character while I paint (because I’m a nerd), but even so, I will NOT wear heels or uncomfortable shoes while I work. Flats, walking shoes, padded boots… whatever you choose. But make certain you’re caring for your feet and legs.


You are entering into an amazing adventure. The ever-evolving world of face and body art is really exciting! Remember to be kind, your clients are mostly children, some of whom may be a little afraid. That’s ok, reassure them, don’t allow parents to force a crying child to be painted, tears make for runny paint! You want them to walk away happy, and it’s ok to say no.

an image of peter parker crying with a caption saying "when you want to be spiderman but the face painter shut down the line"

Remember, don’t panic! At the end of the day, you are an artist, not a doctor. There aren’t going to be many life or death situations on your hands, so relax! There will be weird or unusual circumstances that come up eventually… accept it now. But when life happens, remain calm and look for a solution. Take deep breaths, and remember to laugh. You can turn a stressful situation into a good laugh if you are able to simply step back and look from a different perspective.

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How did your first gig go? Please feel free to share your favorite tips for beginning artists! 👇👇👇

 — Kelli Zermeño

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